Arts visionary urges grads to be greater than great

photo of William Boyle speaking

Forty years ago, a young William Boyle had a crisis of confidence.

photo of William Boyle speakingAfter one day of classes, he knew that law school was not for him.  In desperation, he made a beeline to George Tatham,  dean of the Faculty of Arts, and asked him: “What should I do?”

“On that infamous day, I was given advice that changed my life – and thank heavens, because for once I actually listened,” said Boyle.

William Boyle

“University is to expand your mind and horizons – follow your passion!” Tatham told Boyle.

“That’s what I did, and believe it or not,” said Boyle, “I have been employed ever since!”

“It is ironic for me to be here on several levels; as one of the most sports-challenged people on the planet, it is bizarre that I would be appearing in a tennis centre,” said Boyle in his convocation address after receiving an honorary doctor of laws degree from York University during last Monday’s Spring Convocation ceremonies.

“The redeeming feature is that this sports palace is filled today with arts people, making it a true ‘Occupy’ movement,” Boyle told the graduating students of the Faculties of Fine Arts and Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. “It also confirms a little known fact, that more people attend arts activities in Canada than all sports events combined, and by a large margin. So don’t let anyone ever tell you that you are engaged in marginal activities.”

An expert in defying marginal activities, Boyle has had a multi-dimensional arts career that has been recognized both nationally and internationally. In his role as the chief executive officer of the Harbourfront Centre, Boyle is considered the primary cultural architect of one of Canada’s largest multidisciplinary cultural centres. He has been described as an effective advocate for the integration of the arts into the broader community and one of Canada’s greatest cultural mentors – a person who passionately promotes both emerging and mature artistic talent and innovation, here and abroad.

“It seems obligatory for anyone speaking at convocation to offer advice for graduates,” said Boyle, who then delivered a life list – a master plan of sorts – to graduates:

  • Believe in yourself.  You are the only one who knows what makes you an original; let it shine.
  • Make mistakes and plenty of them. Also make sure they are big enough to learn from.
  • Don’t worry about being famous. Worry about being meaningful and insightful; that lasts much longer than 15 minutes. Those who crave recognition for its own sake usually end up believing their own publicity.
  • If people tell you that you have done something great, do something greater.
  • Bring a sense of humour to everything you do. If you are not having fun, go home! Those who enjoy themselves gather people around. Let those who are miserable enjoy their own company.
  • Don’t make a long-term plan, and if you have one, press ‘delete’.
  • Be sure you make room for detours in your life and serendipity.
  • Enthusiasm is infectious; it can sell practically any idea and bring everyone onside.
  • Energy and passion always win the day, as long as they are bolstered by a driving work ethic.
  • Banish “no” and “not” from your vocabulary, and never let a “no” stand in your way. If you strive to accomplish anything significant, you will encounter a “Berlin Wall” of obstacles and naysayers. Tear it down. A “no” is merely a “yes” in hiding.
  • Except for today, and only today, it is not all about you. It is about us.
  • You have a responsibility to leave this [Earth] a much better place.
  • Persist, persist and persist!

He told graduates that their creativity would serve them well in the world. “How can we help one another?” he asked. “The way forward will come from the inspiration and the imagination of creative thinkers.”

He urged grads to become creative explorers and bold visionaries who would inspire others with authentic insights on the collective experience. “For Canada, your mission is nothing short of revolutionary. We are struggling to build a peaceful nation from countless backgrounds,” he said. “The best way for all of us to understand each other, to respect our diversity and celebrate our basic humanity is through sharing our art, our music, our theatre, our literature. This is where we express our individual dreams, our aspirations, our collective experiences, differences and similarities.”

Boyle told grads that they were the people who would provide the world with “lightbulb moments – that sudden flash of insight into how we live our lives.”

He closed by urging graduates to make great and challenging art.

York’s 2012 Spring Convocation ceremonies are streamed live and then archived online. To view Boyle‘s convocation address, visit the Convocation website.